HARARE – Multitudes of Zimbabweans from all walks of life poured into the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and other major cities and towns dotted across the country, calling for the ouster of long-ruling President Robert Mugabe, who now looks certain to quit.
Early in the morning of yesterday, tens of thousands of protesters lined the streets of Harare, with motorists honking car horns, kombis engaging in tyre-burning antics, men and women ululating and whistling, apparently gripped by the blowing winds of change.
The euphoria, triggered by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) when it seized power from Mugabe’s administration early Wednesday morning, saw jubilant protesters singing and shouting as they expressed their aversion to the Zanu PF leader’s attempts to cling on to power.
The message was loud and clear.
Zimbabweans — regardless of their political affiliation, race, tribe, creed, religion or gender — cannot wait to see Mugabe’s back and be part of a transition into a new dispensation.
After 37 years under Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule, the country’s economy has deteriorated from being one of Africa’s most promising economies in the 1980s to a recessionary heap.
Draped in the colours of the national flag, Zimbabweans carried posters calling on the Zanu PF leader to go peacefully or be pushed over the edge.
One banner read “Mugabe go and rest now”, while others called his wife “Grace a prostitute”.
On Wednesday last week, the army stepped in after the now-popular army general Constantino Chiwenga had warned the 93-year-old strongman on Monday that he had to stop accommodating “criminals” and “counter-revolutionaries” in Zanu PF.
A veteran of the country’s liberation struggle, Chiwenga accused the “criminals” of causing the country’s economic tailspin.
While the demonstrations were described as probably the biggest since the country’s independence from the British in 1980, Zanu PF is today also expected to convene a special central committee meeting in Harare to put yet more nails on Mugabe’s political life that spans more than 60 years.
Yesterday’s demonstration was organised by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (Znlwva) — which invited every citizen to the march to the historic Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield suburb, where Mugabe made his triumphant return to the country in 1980 after the attainment of independence.
Signage on streets named after Mugabe was stripped and thrown into the bins as Zimbabweans sang derogatory songs, denigrating the first family, something that would have led to imprisonment just a few days ago.
Soldiers brandishing AK 47 rifles, received the loudest cheers as the crowds went into a frenzy whenever they came across military tanks and saw helicopters hovering above them.
They were also posters of Chiwenga written “Voice of the People”.
It all seemed surreal, a nightmare that lasted for decades.
Ngaende, Ngaende, Ngaende (Go Now, Go Now, Go Now) were some of the chants belted out by the protesters, while others sang “Mugabe must go”.
All political parties were represented at the Znlwva rally, where MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s party sent a high-powered delegation led by his deputy Nelson Chamisa, to show solidarity with the demonstrators.
Former vice president Joice Mujuru was also in attendance, and was warmly hugged by Climate and Water minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri who in 2014 was part of Grace’s cabal that pushed for her ouster.
Former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara also made a surprise appearance at the Zimbabwe Grounds before the crowds trooped to the State House, the final destination of their protest.
When Patrick Chinamasa, who was recently stripped of the powerful Finance portfolio and shunted to the less fashionable ministry of Cyber Security chanted “pasi naMugabe”, the crowd went delirious.
Giving her solidarity speech, Muchinguri-Kashiri, urged the crowds to march to State House and kick out Mugabe and his wife.
“Pasi, pasi (down with) naGrace Mugabe, pamberi nemauto (forward with the military). We are now united. Let us be united and build a new Zimbabwe in peace, let’s solve our problems as Zimbabweans and from here let us march to State House,” said Muchinguri-Kashiri.
“It is like Christmas,” quipped a young man in his 20s who said he looked forward to a new Zimbabwe in which he can go to work and stop relying on his parents.
“Mugabe should go” said Mujuru, “I am here as a war veteran. I support this programme. What brought us is your suffering. Let’s all join hands and end this.”
In Bulawayo, the second capital city, it was yet another replication of history.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in large numbers to clog the streets as part of the march to pressurise Mugabe to step down.
The protest, which was announcement through social media, turned out to be a success.
By 9am hundreds of marchers had gathered at the Large City Hall car park, before marching in different directions.
Most people joined along the way as the march took different dimensions and directions with a carnival atmosphere gripping the city.
Hooting cars and marchers holding Zimbabwe miniature flags became the order of the day. It was brisk business for vendors.
Some marchers hoisted placards which read “Mugabe Must Go”, “Sadc leave us alone”, “Free Zimbabwe” and “New Zimbabwe” among others.
Some chanted the popular Ndebele song Into oyenzanyo siyayizonda loosely translated (we hate what you are doing).
Police were conspicuous by their absence.
The marchers also camped for about 30 minutes at the Bulawayo Police Central Station showing the middle finger to the police force, who are often loathed as corrupt.
“This is a defining moment for Zimbabwe, as you can see people from all walks of life have come out. People are tired of the Mugabe regime and they want him gone so that he paves way for a process where we are going to have free, fair and credible elections,” MDC deputy president Thokozani Khupe told journalists.
Former MDC lawamaker, David Coltart, who was also among the marchers said the turnout was a sign that Zimbabweans were tired of Mugabe.
“It shows the level of concern of Zimbabweans of what is going on in the country and it shows the energy that is in this nation still,” he said.
“It is important that in all the euphoria that we see in all this that we recognise the need to return to constitutional government, the rule of law and to agree on a process that will take us through to a free and fair election next year.”
Presently, there are very few options for Mugabe, who on Thursday refused to step down.
Parliament is set to move a motion to impeach him on Tuesday and excited Zimbabweans yesterday were clear with banners such as “Sadc and the AU stay away” as they vowed to solve their problems internally.
Behind the scenes, Mugabe and the generals have been negotiating the Zanu PF leader’s exit since Thursday, with the 93-year-old politician digging his heels in.
Sadc is supposed to convene a meeting this week to discuss the latest standoff in Zimbabwe, sparked by the removal of former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, a man who has intricate links with the military.
When it “stepped in” on Wednesday, the army said its intervention was temporary and aimed at, among other things, to restore order.
As of now, dozens of ministers from the Generation 40 faction which supported Grace’s ascendancy to the presidency are locked up as part of the military’s plan to isolate Mugabe from his associates.
Analysts said the presence of opposition parties at the Znlwva rally was indicative of the “behind the scenes negotiations” between yester-year rival parties as they engross themselves with fashioning a transitional government that could be led by Mnangagwa, who certainly has the backing of the army.